When it comes to innovative ways to increase voter turnout, Utah seems to break all the rules. This is a state that lets you vote by mail, vote early and, at least for a three-year trial period, lets you register on the day you vote. Conventional wisdom says that if Republicans run your state, you aren’t supposed to have all those things. “When I go to national election conventions, people are all scratching their heads,” Mark Thomas, chief deputy to Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, told me. “We’re doing things that only some of the liberal states are doing.” So it shouldn’t be terribly surprising that, if you are a registered Republican in Utah, you will have the chance to vote online in the upcoming presidential preference caucus March 22. That’s just another bold step in a conservative state that’s surprisingly progressive about elections, right? Well, it’s bold all right. As Shakespeare said, “Boldness be my friend.” But as English essayist Charles Lamb said, “’Tis the privilege of friendship to talk nonsense, and to have her nonsense respected.”
… As MIT professor Ron Rivest has said generally about claims that Internet voting can be made safe, “If they’ve really solved the Internet security and cybersecurity problem, what are they doing implementing voting systems? They should be working with the Department of Defense or financial industry.” In other words, if the State Department can’t keep its employees’ files safe from Chinese hackers, and ifretailers such as Target, with millions of dollars of private money at stake, can’t keep hackers away (the company recently agreed to pay banks $39 million to settle a data breach lawsuit), what makes people think democracy can do any better? It’s a logical question to ask before taking this idea further.
About this time in the argument, someone usually reminds us that almost everyone today either banks online or purchases items through websites that range from small Etsy shops to the largest department stores. But we accept a certain amount of risk when we buy online, measured against convenience and a host of other factors. Businesses figure in a certain amount of fraud as the cost of doing business. Democracy can’t afford such a margin of error.
That is especially true when you consider that votes, by their nature, must remain anonymous, making audit trails that much more difficult.